Wednesday, September 10, 2008

OK, now... - 1/7/08

[I've had reason to reconsider my absolutist position on libertarianism, though I think it is still a long way from becoming mainstream. I'm glad that the party is discussing what it wants to be in a realistic way, but escaping "fringe" status will be hard.

The rest of this post holds up well. The two candidates we have are unwilling to confront our problems in an adult manner, pandering to the mass electorate instead of reexamining issues in the light of reality.]

I want to follow up on my Saturday comments about Ron Paul. Again, I do not support his "philosophy" (libertarianism is arbitrary and unrealistic), but he reminds me of, well, myself.

I'm a software developer with an MBA who has worked in quite a few industries on different problems. While I don't profess that this background grants me great wisdom (just a little, maybe), it does allow me to comment on things from a fairly broad perspective. I've seen various issues arise, and seen (and participated in) various solutions, some of which have worked better than others.

So, in a meeting, I'm frequently going to be the person bringing up the larger issues ("if we want to support the needs our customers have, we will have to restructure the database access to allow users to query it directly"). A huge proportion of the time, the response, from people ostensibly concerned with the same situation, is stark uncomfortable silence, followed by, "OK, now..." ("what color should the splash screen be?", a topic which then consumes the rest of the hour).

I don't think I'm particularly strident in bringing up these matters; quite the contrary, there are people close to me who say I'm far too quiet and unassuming. What I think is happening is that the room is simply not prepared to discuss such things, no matter how true or significant they may be. It takes a long time for most people to accept that the world is not the way they want to assume it is, that the status quo may be downright wrong.

From my standpoint, however, the worst thing is not that the problem is going to go on, possibly fester, until it becomes so obvious that change is needed that action is finally taken. (Managers, who ought to be taking the longer-term view, tend to be the leading proponents of the conservative, backward-looking approach.) That should bother me the most, but I'm human, and what frustrates me is the is-he-an-alien look that the other people tend to have before moving on to another, far less critical, issue. I want to go Close-ian on all these people who are neglecting what ought to be a major part of their responsibility ("I'm not going to be ignored, Dan").

And this is Ron Paul in a meeting of candidates.

Does terrorism against the West result from the actions of the West in Muslim countries? Does our "occupation" of holy Saudi Arabia inflame anti-U.S. passions (and "they asked us to be there" is no defense; many Muslims feel that the sheiks are as bad in their decadence and embrace of Western ways)? Is our historical interference in their politics a rallying cause? Do our actions come out of a need to prop up a failing, petroleum-based lifestyle?

These are valid issues to discuss, and discussing them would seem to be extremely pertinent in the changed post-9/11 world. (An interesting book on this is Imperial Hubris by intelligence official Michael Scheuer; regardless of how you evaluate his ideas and solutions, it struck me as an important contribution to the literature.) Being simplistic would seem to be the worst thing we could do.

Yet it is exactly what the candidates do. Ron Paul is trying to bring up these issues, albeit in a quasi-lunatic style that does not serve him well. And he gets the look (particularly from Romney, who strikes me as a supercilious smarm-master), that look that says we're not just going to disagree with you, but that you're insane to try to discuss such things.

But we have to discuss such things if we're going to reach a long-term accommodation with Islam. Sound bites like "they hate us, they hate our way of life" may sound tough on the stump, but will not assist the next President in actually engaging the problem. We all fear terrorism and the uncertainty it brings to our lives, but reducing the causes to individual pathology will not illuminate the situation, nor will it lead to a solution.

So I wonder how frustrated Ron Paul is getting, as he tries to be the adult in a room of intellectual children. I suspect that Paul's support, which has surprised a lot of pundits, comes from people who suspect that the issues we face are more serious and complicated than the other candidates are letting on. Blathering on about change is meaningless unless the change is meaningful (and kudos to Huckabee for at least acknowledging that), and meaningful change should only result from a deep understanding of the forces involved, not from focus group-tested, simplistic slogans.


mcfnord said...

i work on a team where every single person is concerned about the broader issues.

your career has hit the skids. that's probably a major reason why you believe commerce is governed by an idiocracy! because you're surrounded by idiots, you think that's how commerce works. it's got Androcass the Star Player, and then it has morons you support with your deep thoughts and hard work, who actively resist good ideas. Right? That's miserable! It makes me ill to think about!

Let me assure you this is not how it works at most of my jobs. There's not one egghead spitting science while the rest advocate complacency.

I don't understand how you base any further analogy on this crazy thesis, that teamwork equals one MBA know-it-all plus a bunch of resistent idiots. you're living a nightmare and you come home each day and reflect that nightmare in a nightmarish world view of You against Idiocracy. that sounds so hard to maintain. but ha ha what do i do? i drop in on the Center of the Universe in his/her Battle Against Idiocracy. So we're both doomed, but at least at work I am among great innovators and equals.

your one reader,

Androcass said...

I hardly know what to say about such a misreading of this post. You have stated before that I believe that business is run by an idiocracy, I have responded that you are imputing a belief to me that I don't have, and you do it again. I cannot win such a game, so I won't play.

If you are fortunate enough to have worked only on deep-thinking teams in which everyone is committed to the creation of optimal products and conditions, that's simply great. Note that my belief in the unlikeliness of that does not require me to impugn your honesty.

You wish to invalidate my actual experience by claiming it to be incorrect, that I am tainted by arrogance. But note my use of the words "frequently" and "tend," no absolutes here.

You and I have the greatest problems in the situations in which you read things in my posts that aren't there, then go off on how wrong I am. You claim that I am overgeneralizing from my specific situation and get downright snotty about it. But that's what you are doing, looking at your good situation and assuming that everyone is so fortunate, then turning the fact that I am pointing out that isn't so into a criticism of me.

Read The Corporate Cynic and tell me that there aren't idiots in the corporate hierarchy. But, please, don't tell me that I have ever said that everyone is an idiot, because that just isn't factual.

mcfnord said...

Remember when I appeared, and Carrie disputed my very employment? How could I possibly be who I say I am? No, a Detroit housewife has a much better handle on tech employment than a tech employee obsessed with economics. So talk about invalidating my actual experience! Of course that was her, not you.

I know people have had shitty employment situations. I have had some, absolutely. But I have a consistent response: GET OUT. Staying in a situation where you aren't respected among equals is damaging to your mind and career. I do think it causes both frustration and a superiority complex. There are cynics and fools in many places... but a world view based on extended engagements with them is destined to fail. I don't think I've misread or mischaracterized you on this point. And I think it logically feeds the mistaken idiocracy thesis.

Here's something I believe: "What you focus on expands."

mcfnord said...

This post has helped me understand a lot more about you. you don't believe it's an idiocracy (LEAD by fools) so much as foolishness (or insufficent depth of thought) as the norm all the way down! except you. and this perspective has grown to form your world view.

\There's a guy on my team who brings up "larger issues" and sometimes he's out in left field but often not. for you a "huge" proporation of the time there's "stark uncomfortable silence" followed by a failure to fully consider your concerns.

This might be an ah-ha moment for me here. "the room is not prepared to discuss... [significant, true] things." "Managers... tend to be proponents of the conservative, backward-looking approach." And you feel alien, and ignored. And that makes you quite frustrated.

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